Utah at a Crossroads

SL Chamber LogoGovernor Herbert released his fiscal year 2017 budget proposal last week. The Salt Lake Chamber lauds the leadership demonstrated by the Governor’s forward-thinking budget.

It’s no secret that Utah’s robust economy is the envy of the nation and strong revenue growth demonstrate our continued economic success and fiscal discipline. This success has come, because at key decision points in the past, we have taken advantage of challenges and opportunities for growth. 
Utah is now at crossroads. The path we choose to move down will either stall or sustain our economic momentum. A vibrant economy is placing increasing demands for a qualified workforce. This should also serve as a clear warning sign that underinvestment in education is detrimental to our state’s continued prosperity. Additionally, our state’s premier business climate is increasingly under pressure and we face generationally significant decisions with several capital investments. As a Chamber, we will continue to highlight these issues and the business community’s agenda to solve them  as we approach the upcoming legislative session. The Governor’s budget reflects key steps to addressing some of these challenges and we look forward to working with him and the Legislature, to ensure our state continues to prosper.
Business Powers a Thriving Economy – As the second-fastest growing economy in the nation, Utah’s job creators, and the incomes they generate, are providing critical resources that will help make strategic investments. This is paired with our state’s superior elected leadership and fiscal discipline. The governor’s budget reflects this while acknowledging the need to invest in our future. It is a tribute to Utah’s economic resilience that the state’s rainy day funds now exceed pre-recession levels by $528 million. We are concerned that a diminished sales tax base is becoming a significant long-term issue for our state’s budget and encourage thoughtful actions to evaluate existing taxes and fees, including Congress acting on a solution for the collection of remote sales and use taxes.

Prosperity Through Education – The business community supports Governor Hebert’s thoughtful leadership in making education a priority for increased funding with the recommendation of $422 million in new state funds. This includes funding many of the key programs recommended in the five-year “Prosperity through Education” plan, developed by Prosperity 2020 and Education First. It is imperative that these investments move forward to improve education in our state and meet the goals of having 90% of Utah students reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

Smartly Addressing Water Needs – We support key aspects of the Governor’s methodical approach to smartly addressing water needs by ensuring, we the taxpayer, only allocate scarce resources to substantial state investments in water infrastructure once significant milestones are met. Specifically, we believe that the state needs a long-term comprehensive water strategy before making these substantial investments including a thorough discussion with all stakeholders – including the public – about the advantages and disadvantages of how we pay the future investments in water infrastructure. We also support the Governor’s recommendations to prioritize strategic investments that improve our water use data, conservation efforts and agree that the state should implement enhanced water conservation targets and strategies with an increased emphasis on user fees. We also applaud the Governor’s efforts to allocate funding for state agencies to lead by example and educate the public on conservation improvements.

Critical Community Issues – We support the Governor’s efforts to address a portion of the uninsured poverty gap. However, the business community continues to support action, and statesmanship, by the Governor and Legislative leadership to find an alternative to Medicaid expansion that respects the taxpayer and recognize the necessity of balancing the financial resources of the state with the needs of Utahns. We also believe that Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and the State of Utah all have important roles in funding the facilities, services, housing and long-term strategies to address our state’s homelessness issues.

Addressing Air Quality – We all have a role in improving Utah’s air quality. The governor proposes to continue key grants, which incentivize both small businesses and households, to reduce emissions, and funding for research and increased public education about our air quality. The business community supports these steps, in addition to further diversifying private and public fleets to alternative fuels and vehicles. We also applaud and support the Governor and local refiners to accelerate implementation of the Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuels Standards Program.